I recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to Plymouth City Council, asking several different things. Some of the questions I asked were:

  • What is the actual amount the council spends annually on building and maintaining roads, for the past four years?
  • What is the actual amount the council spends annually on building and maintaining cycling infrastructure for the past four years? Please separate the amounts where such spending is done on shared paths, as clearly that isn’t dedicated to cycling. Also, please separate amounts such as the grant funding that will help pay to renovate the old Laira train bridge.
  • Why is the maintenance of cycle paths so poor across the city?
  • Why doesn’t the council grit cycle paths?

I also asked for detail about the air quality monitors, but although I was supplied the data, it will take some time to work through that.

Let’s look at these questions in reverse order:

Why doesn’t the council grit cycle paths?

This is the response I received: 
It is not possible to grit all roads in Plymouth, therefore we endeavour to grit the main routes in and around Plymouth. Plymouth Transport and Highways have defined a gritting network which contains the roads that are most heavily used or provide access to vital services such as hospitals, fire stations etc. Our precautionary gritting network and associated prioritisation criteria are defined in our Winter Service Plan, which is reviewed annually, and content of which is summarised in our Winter Service internet pages, which can be found at the following location:

We are unfortunately unable to grit cycle routes for the same reasons we are unable to grit footpaths. These reasons are given in the attached Winter Service fact sheet.

Our policy on gritting cycle routes is as follows:

  • Cycle routes that form an integral part of the carriageway and that are part of the precautionary priority network will be treated and the grit spreader widths will be adjusted to cover those areas.
  • Cycle routes that are either part of the walked network or are an area distinctly separate to the driven network will not be precautionary treated.
  • Any reactive treatment will have the same criteria as the footways and will not compromise the provision of the precautionary salting network.

The short version of what Plymouth City Council is saying is simply that they won’t grit cycle paths.

Why is the maintenance of cycle paths so poor across the city?

Here’s the answer I was given:
Not all cycle routes across the city are under the ownership of Plymouth City Council. Cycle routes owned by Plymouth City Council are not all the responsibility of one single department, as a result of this maintenance standards for each footpath can vary. Plymouth Transport and Highways recently carried out an overview study of cycle route maintenance across Plymouth, with a view to standardising and improving cycle route maintenance levels.

The translation is this case is something along the lines of “where it is our responsibility, we have never considered it important enough to have a joined-up strategy in place, and we have no plans to change the situation, regardless how much of a mess it may be.”

This is a very telling, and surprisingly frank answer Plymouth City Council supplied and highlights clearly how disjointed and disorganised the council’s approach to cycling is. That in turn goes a long way towards explaining how poor cycling is treated by the council.

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Now we get to the figures, and they paint a depressing, yet unexpected picture.

Here’s their answer:

  1. The actual amount the council spends annually on building and maintaining roads, for the past four years? 
Plymouth Transport and Highways have spent the following on maintaining carriageways over the past four fiscal years. We have separated out Revenue and Capital funding for convenience:


There have been no road building schemes, other than the East End Transport Scheme which totalled £19.4million. Funding has been allocated over this period for alterations to the highway network i.e. traffic calming schemes, road safety schemes etc. however, these do not constitute new road construction.

  1. The actual amount the council spends annually on building and maintaining cycling infrastructure for the past four years? Please separate the amounts where such spending is done on shared paths, as clearly that isn’t dedicated to cycling. Also, please separate amounts such as the grant funding that will help pay to renovate the old Laira train bridge.

Plymouth Transport and Highways spent the following on maintaining cycleways over the past four years (Prior to Dec 2008 and during                 2011/2012 we did not record spend on cycleways alone):

From Dec 08
Not held

Unfortunately, with reference to shared footways/cycleways,it is not possible to separate out expenditure on cycle route maintenance and cycle improvement schemes as costs are not recorded separately.

Expenditure on improvement to the strategic cycle network has totalled approximately £2.5m over the past four years of which £1.073m has been secured through external grants. This programme includes a whole range of measures that benefit both pedestrians and cyclists.

Most recently the following schemes/projects have delivered cycle route improvements:

East EndTransport Scheme – Total expenditure £19.4 million – delivered November 2011

Plymouth Connect Finnigan Road – Total expenditure £400,000 – delivered November 2012, (£121,000 of which is LSTF Grant Funding)

We have received Grant Funding for the following future schemes/projects:


Plymouth Connect Exeter St to North Cross Cycle Path – £251,000 (including £102,000 LSTF Grant Funding).


Plymouth Connect Laira Bridge – £3.1m Grant Funding (including £1.7m LSTF Grant Funding).

Plymouth Connect Friary Park Cycle Path – £160,000 LSTF Grant Funding

It is slightly misleading, in that the bulk of funding under “Plymouth Connect” is grant funding, though right at the bottom they do seperate it. Also, while projects like the East End Transport Scheme and the Finnigan Road junction change did offer some improvements to cyclists and pedestrians, these were fringe benefits of projects aimed squarely at motorised traffic. The Finnigan Road project additionally included desperately needed maintenance work to Laira Bridge.
What they don’t mention is how the East End Transport Scheme resulted in the loss of the wide and quite good on-carriageway cycle path along Gdynia Way, nor other changes that were belatedly introduced after objections.

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But let us go and do some very basic maths using the figures supplied, while focusing ONLY on funds spent on road maintenance and cycle path maintenance, leaving new projects out entirely.

From that we can see that in the fiscal year 08/09 Plymouth spent £1,327,895.40 on road maintenance, and £371.67 on cycle path maintenance.
During 09/10, £1,013,187.90 was spent on roads and £4 832.00 on cycle paths.
In 10/11 it changed to £2,147,324.00 being spent on roads and £918.00 on cycle paths.

Basic calculations therefore tell us that in 08/09 Plymouth spent 0.03% as much on cycle paths as on roads. In 09/10 that changed to 0.48% but dropped back to 0.04% in 10/11.

Plymouth City Council recorded no funds spent on cycle path maintenance during 11/12, but spent £2,147,324.00 on roads.

I have no idea why their figures show that they have spent £2 334.00 in the financial year of 12/13 when that year isn’t finished yet, nor do I know why they didn’t include figures for road maintenance for the same fiscal year.

Now obviously there are MANY more miles of road than cycle paths, so you’d expect a large discrepancy between the two figures. Additionally, motorised transport severely damages road, while bikes do virtually no damage, meaning even if there were the same amount of miles of cycle path as there are roads, that the spend on the cycle paths would still be far lower.

With Plymouth’s population at 256,400, according to the last census, the figures above breaks down to a per head spend as follows:

 Fiscal Year
 Cycle Paths

The zero values listed above of course aren’t completely void, but is a tiny fraction of a penny and when rounded off to 2 digits shows as zero.


I have since been given some updated information by Plymouth City Council. 

Legally, I have no idea where this leaves them or me and to some degree it casts doubt on the validity of ANY FoI request information they disclose. After all, a FoI disclosure is meant to be the WHOLE picture.

The updated figures show that during the current financial year (2012/2013) there was an additional £65 000 spent on re-surfacing Ham Lane, a cycle and walking route rowards the northern side of the city. Obviously some of that funding went on additional work on Ham Lane, not just pouring tar, but we won’t delve into the details.

Also, there is £30 000 budgeted for cycling for 2013/2014, to be used to re-surface Mowbray Road. I was assured that section of Mowbray Road was closed to motorised traffic.

This changes some of the figures I’ve listed above as follows:

 Fiscal Year
 Cycle Paths
11/12  £17.18  £0.00
12/13 Not given £0.26

The figures above do show a comparatively huge increase on spending on cycling during 2012/2013, with no figures for road spending having been supplied.  

The council failed to record any spending on cycling during 2011/2012, which to my mind simply means there wasn’t any at all. If they can prove otherwise, I’d be happy to update the figures here.

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Despite the increase, there is still a staggering difference and cycling in Plymouth, as apparently is the case pretty much everywhere else, is STILL being shortchanged. 

Can you imagine the difference that could be made to the city if it started spending just ONE Pound per person per year on cycling, each and every year?
Can you imagine the MASSIVE savings in road repairs Plymouth would enjoy if instead it got people to do 20% of all local trips under 3 miles by bicycle?

It isn’t rocket science, but sadly the political will isn’t there at all, regardless of which political party runs the council.


Let’s review those answers again, this time trying to put them together as a whole picture. Plymouth City Council doesn’t consider cycling important enough to have a focused approach to it, but instead is happy for their pathetic provision to be highly fragmented. Additionally, cycling isn’t considered important enough to warrant any real expenditure,

This creates a culture where cycling (if considered at all) is tagged on as an after thought, and explains rather well why we have such stupid “cycle facilities” being put in place at times. One would have thought that with a “Cycling Commisioner” in place things would be changing, but it appears the role is essentially ceremonial only, and carries no authority whatsoever. That simply means it may as well not exist.

Sadly it also means that Plymouth quite obviously doesn’t grasp the enormous economic benefits cycling offers the city. This is a predictable outcome of a scenario where most real decision makers don’t cycle, and view bicyles as toys. Sure, they talk about how important cycling is, but those are just empty words and when it comes down to actions it is immediately obvious how little regard for cycling our esteemed and illustrious leaders have.

And yet it can so easily be different! Spend £500 000.00 per annum (less than £2.00 per person) on cycle paths, keep them clear, gritted and smooth, with priority over minor side roads and watch how many more people take up cycling. That take-up will correspond with reduced congestion, resulting in faster journey times over the city, with the added benefit of reducing road maintenance needs and costs. Everybody wins!

Trouble is, like virtually every other local authority, Plymouth appears NOT to make decisions based on research and examples of best practice, but rather on emotion, and that dictates that the status quo will be maintained, and cycling will be bypassed, sidelined and ignored.

In a word, in Plymouth cycling is short changed.

2 thoughts on “Shortchanged”

  1. I don't think it's just Plymouth. The whole of Devon must be one of the most forgotten road and cycle networks in the country. My partner fell victim to a badly surfaced road near Cullompton (basically where they have resurfaced the road but not put the final layer of tar on; just left the gravel). He had to move into the side of the road because of a courteous motorist leaving him little room to manoeuvre and due to the ridiculous level of loose gravel, he came off. His carbon fibre frame was cracked beyond repair and his beautiful tattoo on his leg is also ruined from road rash. DCC have "passed his complaint onto the contractors" but three months later we have heard nothing. It's cost us several trips to the doctors and a fortune on a new carbon fibre frame.
    Cycling in Europe on the otherhand, as he did a few weeks later, was a completely different story. Well maintained roads without a bump and considerate, even polite, Italian drivers!
    Here's hoping someone, somewhere will take action one day! Thanks for bringing this information into the public domain, I shall share.

  2. You're absolutely right – it isn't just Plymouth. In my experience things are different all over Devon, with West Devon probably being the best (outside of Exeter, which was a designated "cycling city" with associated funds dedicated to cycling).
    The trouble is the road engineers do things "by the book" and refuse to accept that the book is out of date.
    Sadly, until they realise that, cycling will remain an afterthought at best.


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